A meditation technique may reduce loneliness, chronic inflammation and risk of disease in seniors, according to a new study.
As partners pass and children scatter, many of the elderly spend their last years alone. Overtime, loneliness not only affects people mentally but also physically.
Previous studies have linked loneliness to increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, depression and even premature death, and while previous treatment efforts have had limited success to reduce loneliness, researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles have found that a simple eight-week meditation program significantly reduced loneliness in older adults.
Not only did participants report a dramatic reduction in loneliness, researchers found that the meditation program also reduced expression of disease-promoting inflammatory genes associated with loneliness, according to the findings published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
The study consisted of 40 adults between the ages of 55 and 85 participating in an eight-week program involving a psychological intervention called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which teaches the mind to concentrate only on the present and not dwell in the past or project into the future. Participants meditated for about 30 minutes a day.
Study author Steve Cole, professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCLA, said that the meditation technique dramatically reduced feelings of loneliness and altered genes and protein markers linked to inflammation like the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein, a strong risk factor for heart disease, and a group of genes regulated by the transcription factor NF-kB, a molecular signal that activates inflammation, in participant blood samples.
Researchers explained that while inflammation naturally occurs in the immune system it can help fight a wide variety of bodily injuries like infections or bruises, recent research has shown that chronic inflammation is responsible for many disease and psychological disorders.
"Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression," Cole said in a statement. "If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly."